Community Pharmacist Engagement in HIV and HCV Prevention: Current Practices and Potential for Service Uptake

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Background: The central Appalachian region is at an elevated risk for HIV/HCV outbreaks, primarily due to injection drug use. Regional risk assessments highlight gaps in the evidence-based continuum of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention strategies to minimize HIV/HCV transmission. One potential strategy for increasing the reach of HIV/HCV prevention efforts in rural areas is through provision of services at community pharmacies. Objective: To qualitatively describe community pharmacists' HIV/HCV-related prevention behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs in a 3-state central Appalachian region. Methods: Key informant interviews were conducted with 15 practicing community pharmacists. Theory of Planned Behavior-based questions probed for perceptions about the role of pharmacies in preventing and reducing HIV/HCV outbreaks in rural areas through activities such as syringe services, screening for HIV/HCV, and linking people to treatment when appropriate. Investigators applied thematic analysis to deductively and inductively generate themes from the interview transcripts. Results: Two overarching themes regarding pharmacist engagement in HIV/HCV-related prevention services were generated: 1) current approaches to primary prevention through nonprescription syringe sales (e.g., gatekeeping behaviors) and 2) potential for uptake of the continuum of HIV/HCV-related prevention services in community pharmacies. Future engagement of community pharmacists in the continuum of HIV/HCV-related prevention services comprised 2 subthemes as possible underlying factors: general and specific willingness to provide services and perceived fit within the pharmacy profession. Conclusions: Central Appalachian community pharmacists express a general willingness to help patients who may benefit from HIV/HCV-related prevention services, but current engagement, willingness, and perceived fit for offering specific prevention services in the community pharmacy setting is variable. This has potential immediate implications, such as prioritizing the introduction of more widely accepted services (e.g., provision of HIV/HCV-related prevention education) to community pharmacy practice, and longer-term implications, such as the integration and framing of HIV/HCV-related prevention services as helping behavior within the pharmacist professional identity.